For this edition of Bond Talks, Bond interviewed Mike Kantor, the Senior Director of Partnerships at SiteMinder. We asked Mike about the Partnership Program at SiteMinder, how it all started, how he impacted the development of the Program, how to select the right Partners and of course his advice for anyone starting a Partnership Program.
SiteMinder is a Hospitality Technology company that has developed a platform of tech products for hoteliers. With over 35.000 hoteliers globally using their products, SiteMinder is most probably known for its Channel Manager. However, SiteMinder is much more than that, offering an array of products like a Booking Engine, Website Builder, App Store, and much more.
Bond: “Thank you so much for your time Mike. For the people that don’t know you, can you introduce yourself shortly?”
Mike: “Hi all, my name is Mike Kantor and I am the Senior Director of Partnerships at SiteMinder. I actually stumbled into travel tech about 14 years ago as a technical writer for Concur, from where I ended up in a product management role. During my time with Concur, we worked with many different companies that could benefit greatly from working together. We saw this potential and decided to form a partnership team to bring together rail, and ground transportation. In this team, we developed an API and Marketplace, before SAP acquired Concur. I joined SiteMinder about 4 years ago. The growth and ambitions of SiteMinder really appealed to me, besides the combination of Travel, Hospitality, and Technology, which all come together in my current role.”
Bond: “Being in Partnership for such a long time, what is your personal take on Partnerships?”
Mike: “In my opinion, any successful partnership comes down to 1) Being honest, 2) Adding value, and 3) Keeping it simple.”
Bond: “How does your vision influence the Partnership Program of SiteMinder?”
Mike: “My team should always understand the motivation for a partnership and build a business case for every partner. In order to gain success for both parties and not waste anyone’s time, we need to be painfully honest (1), which can be uncomfortable at times. But there are many partners that have unrealistic expectations, while we need to keep an eye on the value for both companies (2). We need to dare to take the stand that, if there is no added value, it doesn’t make sense to pursue a partnership.
But when we see the value, we always start out simple (3). I ask my team to first prove that it works and then build it up to a more strategic partnership. It is very easy to overcomplicate. Of course, there are the rare exceptions, where you want to go all-in right from the start, but this has happened only twice in my career, so it’s safe to say to start simple.”
Bond: “You’ve been working with SiteMinder for over 4 years. Do you recall the main reason(s) to start a Partnership Program back in the days?”
Mike: “When I joined SiteMinder in 2017, SiteMinder was doing well and already had a lot of partners who were critical to the success of the company’s hotel customers. However, there was no dedicated team to manage those partnerships. Most were managed by the sales reps, because they had built those relationships from when the company was younger or had started those partnerships to sign specific deals. The leadership team realized there was a lot of potential in those partnerships, and therefore asked me to set up a team and Partnership Program.”
Bond: “How did you start this important task?”
Mike: “We started by setting up a team of experienced, regional experts. The first objective for them was to create a portfolio of partners that were important in their region. The second objective was to reignite the relationship with the existing partners, whose products were integrated with SiteMinder’s platform already but who were never nurtured. Now we were able to create two buckets: (1) partners that just want to be connected and (2) partners that were looking for more and were thus open to a true partnership. The next step was to create a proper Partnerships team, fully focused on serving these partners. Very important in the whole process was the backing of our leadership team, who realized the potential of these partnerships in the long term.”
Bond: “Looking back at the development of the Program, are there any key moments that significantly changed the Program?”
Mike: “As in any fast-growing company, there were a number of these moments. What I recall very clearly is the growth path we experienced and the challenges with scalability. At first, we were not seeing much growth as we focused mainly on signing enterprise partners and our clients were, especially at that time, mostly independent hoteliers.
So, instead of enterprise, we started to focus on SMB partners and showed that SiteMinder was much more a business partner than a technical partner. Our message is that we are here to help them grow their business and create a better service to their clients. This is when we really saw significant growth.
Another key moment came when we really picked up traction. We realized then that we just did not have enough resources to serve all of them. So, we started to automate more and focus on bigger partners. This moment of realization was very important, otherwise, it would have impacted the quality we delivered to our partners and no one would have gotten the results they wanted, neither the partners nor SiteMinder.”
Bond: “Back to the present: SiteMinder is a global leader in Distribution Technology for hospitality. What is the size of the Partner ecosystem and what type of partnerships does SiteMinder offer?”
Mike: “The SiteMinder ecosystem includes over 1000 partners, of which 300 are PMS partners and around 450 are OTAs and other channel partners. Within the Partnerships team, we have people who serve partners per type. So, we have a team that is focused on PMS partners and another team that is focused on distribution partners, like OTAs.
We have recently introduced a new structure for all our partners. For our Technical partners, we offer 3 tiers:
We classify our non-technical partners, which are the partners that have no integration with SiteMinder’s platform, such as our Expert Partners. We offer them 2 tiers:
Bond: “Those numbers are quite impressive! It seems like potential partners are queuing to work with you, but what is your secret to ensure the partners you enroll, are a good match for SiteMinder? ”
Mike: “As I mentioned earlier, we consider ourselves a business partner. We provide our partners with a global platform that helps them to increase brand awareness, generate leads and grow their business. In order to achieve these ambitious results, we have had to put in some requirements to our partners. So, to ensure a good match, all the applications are reviewed by the team. We also look closely at the potential business case: do we have a match in the type of customers, active countries, etc.
Unfortunately, we do have to decline partners at times. We have a limited team and need to manage our resources in order to get our partners and customers the value they are looking for. We do not tend to work with companies that are very early stage, however, we do need to be sharp on any potential big chance of course! So, we do provide interesting companies the chance to pitch to us.”
Bond: “What are the main benefits for Partners to work with SiteMinder? In other words, what is the value proposition of SiteMinder to their partners and why should you work with SiteMinder as a partner?”
Mike: “SiteMinder has helped many partners to grow and add value to their service, as our focus has always been to be a business partner. Our distribution capability is the best out there and thus our partners offer the best quality to their customers.
In addition to that, we offer a holistic platform of solutions for every hotelier to acquire guests. We offer partners to be part of this, list their product on this platform for a global audience, and generate business.
This exposure also solves a lot of issues with limited resources available within our partner teams. By partnering with SiteMinder, they can focus on the development of their product, while we help them with the rest, like marketing leads, knowledge, stats, etc.”
Bond: “One last favor to ask: What advice would you give starting or smaller SaaS companies that are thinking about running a Partnership Program?
Mike: “Face-to-face partnerships are invaluable. It is impossible at this time, but realize that the really important stuff is done by having a real conversation. So, go out (digitally or in-person once we are allowed) and build a rapport with your partners.
When you are just starting, I would advise casting the net wide. Talk to as many partners as you can and slowly but surely you will find out what the best type of partners are to achieve your goals. Don’t focus too much on the fit when you start; be as open as you can, and build business cases along the way.
Lastly, and this is so important for every partner manager: Don’t work against your marketing and sales teams. Find ways to make sure partners are contributing to achieving the overall goals of the business and are not contradicting any marketing or sales efforts. You will need to prove the value of partners over time".”